The EdTech Influencer Series Part 1: Ron Strand

  • 7 February 2018
  • Expert Insights

This post is part of our new EdTech Influencer series where we interview the world's leading education experts to get their take on the state of the education industry, the top trends to watch for, and what the future holds.

The following is an interview we recently had with Ron Strand, Faculty Member of the School of Communication Studies at Mount Royal University in Calgary, Canada.

1.  How has the education industry evolved in the past 5 years?  What are the top education technology trends you're seeing?  

RS: I should preface my remarks by stating that I am most familiar with postsecondary and adult education. With this in mind, my comments may not be applicable to primary education. Being active on social media, I try to keep a handle on what people in the field are talking about, and most of my opinions come from this perspective.

I tend to think of the evolution of education, and educational technology, taking place on two fronts.  First, there are the global or macro changes. MOOCs have exploded, both in terms of variety of courses available and popularity. Other macro trends include the use of big data and learning analytics, the increased use of virtual reality, and the potential for blockchain technologies.  Increased sophistication of learning management systems and the ability of institutions to manage a wider variety of learning experiences also seems to be an evolving trend. Along with these macro changes, there are what I would classify as the micro trends. These are the thousands of apps and websites that aid learning in specific subjects, situations, and types of learners. Some of these are designed to be used by learners directly and some are designed to be used by teachers in the classroom. I think AI lies somewhere between the macro and micro trends, as it can be applied to both institutional management and individual learning experiences.

So far, there has not been much convergence of these two major trends. As an example, the MOOCs I have seen tend to use video lectures and text as the main ways to convey the course content. This really is not much different than it has been for the last fifty years. The only difference is of course that the courses are online. But whether a lecture is recorded on video or live in a classroom, it is still a lecture. The exception is when a subject is being taught related to software use, coding, or similar application that can be demonstrated in a video by an instructor. This is a better use of video. The use of novel and robust learning apps within courses seems relatively rare.

It is likely that in the near future, we will see the convergence of these trends in educational technology. Institutions will use adaptive learning analytics and along with these, will offer more individualized learning applications. These may include everything from games, simulations, virtual reality, and so on. These will be adapted to the capabilities and progress of individual learners.  Part of what will make these things possible is increasing research in how our brains work and how learning affects our brains. More convergence will take place between this field of knowledge and applications in education.  

2. How will AI change the education industry?

RS: A simple example comes to mind. One of the first online courses I took was back in the 1990’s when institutions were experimenting with automated approaches. It was a course for university credit.  I knew when the course started that it was experimental. There was a textbook, some online material, and exercises. There was no instructor and no interaction with other students. After working through the material and exercises, you could take an online exam. The score was the only feedback received. I think there was an option to take exams more than once, but I’m not sure. I did not do very well on the course, but was able to complete it in six weeks. I likely would have received a better mark if I had taken more time.

This experience comes to mind because now it may be possible to offer a similar course, but have the ability to analyze the student’s progress, and point out specific areas where the student lacks understanding. The feedback would include more than a score, but would also include suggestions for further study, essentially saying, you seem to be having some difficulty applying this concept, here are some things I want you to work through before you try the quiz again.  

Examinations put enormous pressure on students, often unnecessarily. If this type of approach was used, it could relieve some of that pressure, as students become aware of deficiencies along the way. Instructors may intervene when required with specific guidance rather than general dissemination of course content.  

At another level, AI could accumulate data on all of the students and comparing this data could alter the course content or even the curriculum. This will change institutions where policies and curriculum often lag behind technological development.

3. How will blockchain change the education industry?

RS: There are several possible applications of blockchain that I have read about, but the most commonly discussed application seems to be in managing credentials. In the past, a person might get a degree from a single institution making it relatively easy for an employer to check that credential, and then make a judgment about the likely credibility of a degree from that school.  In the future, instead of taking a degree from a single institution, an individual may have a variety of different learning experiences from a range of providers, such as from MOOCs, traditional courses, even YouTube. This may make it difficult for an employer to check and evaluate all of these things the candidate says they have achieved. But blockchain should make it possible for a person to accumulate a virtual resume of verified competencies that an employer could easily check.  

4. What's the future of education?

RS: Of course, it is impossible to answer this question accurately.  But one can imagine present trends continuing, leading us to a picture of the future. About 10 years ago, the Copenhagen Institute of Future Studies coined the term “anarchonomy”, which is a portmanteau created by combining anarchy and economy. They used the term to apply to the phenomenon that networked economies tend to be usurped by players offering free and democratic equivalents to what is offered at a cost by businesses, or in the case of education, offered by institutions. MOOCs are an example of institutions participating willingly in the anarchonomy of education. Education is becoming accessible to more people, and this is necessitated by changes to society. As an example, many have speculated about the massive retraining of people that will be required when driverless vehicles are used extensively. Technology makes education more accessible.  What holds back participation in education is politics, poverty, and other forces that make it difficult for individuals to a meaningful experience.  People will overcome these obstacles and will gravitate to personalized learning that may or may not be offered by an institution.

About Ron Strand

Ron Strand is a part-time faculty member of the School of Communication Studies at Mount Royal University in Calgary, Canada.

In addition to credit courses, he has taught adult business training online since 2006.  He has been studying online education since 2000 and has a Doctor of Education in Distance Education from Athabasca University.   

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